Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Boring Essays and Interesting Adjectives

Deadlines are approaching again, and procrastination methods grow thin; and so I turn yet again to my trusty blog for distraction.

My other primary source of procrastination at the moment is Mark Forsyth's new book "The Elements of Eloquence". It's brilliant. My favourite part so far has been about Tolkien's "Green Great Dragon", which featured in one of his earliest stories, written while he was a child. His mother corrected him and said it had to be a "Great Green Dragon", which discouraged Tolkien so much that we are lucky that The Lord of the Rings exists. Forsyth explains why one doesn't speak of Green Great Dragons:
"The reason for Tolkien's mistake, since you ask, is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you'll sound like a maniac. It's an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can't exist."
And at the moment that seems far more interesting than whether social sciences and theoretical sciences can all fit under some deductive nominological covering laws, or whether rational and theoretical explanations are fundamentally different, or whether the word cause has three unrelated meanings (I think some of those things are relevant to my essay).

I'm also wondering whether there exist any Philosophers who don't make complete fools of themselves when trying to talk about Mathematics and Science; and if they are out there somewhere, whether their numbers are smaller than the Mathematicians and Scientists who can talk about Philosophy without making a fool of themselves. If one more Philosopher uses the word 'quantum physics' in serious argument, I may give up all hope. Hearing someone from the Royal Institute of Philosophy try to talk about Turing machines earlier this month almost left me in need of psychological help.

In case you were hoping news about General Life, with optional comma splices: It's getting cold, I saw hail and snow, I'm getting tired of my very creepy flat mates watching me intently while I prepare food without speaking even when spoken to, the old milk in the communal fridge has come alive and is about to declare war on humanity, but no-one is brave enough to claim responsibility for leaving it there or to remove it, someone finally got tired of the mound of unwashed dishes and threw them all away, leaving lots of people a bit upset, I went to Hanley today to try get my phone fixed, and came to the conclusion that this part of England is dead (the shops were closed, the bars were closed, the restaurants were empty, and the conclusion we made about the one open nightclub was that the only thing more undesirable than standing in the queue to get in would be the possibility of going in), my sleep cycle is now almost completely reversed, which makes even 11 A.M. lectures unpleasant, luckily I have Wednesdays and Thursdays completely free, not to mention coffee, to recover, time is flying faster and faster (leaving in a month? didn't I just arrive?), it turns out that there are some English people at Keele too (sometimes it seems like they're the minority here), I think that's enough for now, maybe more soon, otherwise see Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Anonymous Marking

A few days ago I handed in my first essay to Keele University. It's quite a long process. I had to find the Humanities office, then wait in the queue of students (as obviously we'd all left the process to a few minutes before the deadline), fill in a long complicated form that asked difficult questions like "Fill in your Student Number", (Keele issues students with two 'student numbers', and it's always difficult to tell which one to use), "Fill in your tutor's name" (I didn't think 'No idea' was what they were looking for, but luckily one of my classmates in the queue helped me out with that one), and "Fill in the module number of your course" (luckily that one was written on my timetable).

Also included was the plagiarism declaration, which is what all of it is actually about. Once I'd filled out all the fields in this form (using up almost all my ink in the process, and trying not to mutter too loudly about how this was all pointless and redundant and we were required to submit electronically through turn-it-in as well), I gave the essay and form to the secretary, who carefully perused both to make sure all was in order. She tut-tutted at spotting my name on the title page, and neatly and carefully scratched it out, making very sure to do a thorough job, so that it would be quite impossible for anyone to read it. She told me proudly that Keele used anonymous marking, as if this was the most forward and admirable thing in the world.

As it was just a first year English essay, and I done all the reading and written the 1000 words in a couple of hours, and as I knew that the lecturer had not the faintest idea who I was, I couldn't have cared less. As long as I never had to read the damn thing again. But on Wednesday I will be submitting my 3000 word Philosophy essay on Hume (Of the Standard of Taste), and considering that I have put a good deal more work into this essay, that I will actually be reading the lecturer's feedback with interest, and that the lecturer knows who I am, the idea of anonymous marking has come to bother me far more than it did previously. While it may protect students from lecturer bias, this protection will create more harm than good: For one, the lecturers will not be able to give personalised, constructive feedback. They have no way of knowing (making the shaky supposition that nameless essays are truly anonymous) if students are benefiting from feedback, and are unable to adapt their feedback accordingly. Surely a lecturer will never be able to give useful feedback if they do not know who they are talking to? And secondly, bias may sometimes be necessary. If a student's first language is not English, but it is nonetheless obvious that sufficient effort has been put in to compensate for this, some bias is needed, as the penalization for language and grammar should be reduced. While this may not be as relevant at Keele as at Rhodes, with Keele having over one third of its student body made of international students, it is certainly a factor.

Luckily, as with nearly every other idea I've ever had, a quick Google proves that I am not alone in this (if you feel clever, witty, original, etc in this modern world then you don't spend enough time Googling stuff). Look, it's all already done for me:
Now I'm just wondering if I should sneakily include my name at the end of my essay, in which case it'll be read by the lecturer first, and she won't be able to unread it.

Maybe I just have an ego problem.